Ninety miles southwest of Portland, Ore., is the Three Capes Scenic Drive, a 40-mile drive through one of the most spectacular stretches of scenery on the Oregon coast. The three capes—Cape Meares, Cape Lookout and Cape Kiwanda—are the main destinations on the loop, each with its own distinctive attractions.
The scenic drive begins in the town of Tillamook and travels along the southern edge of Tillamook Bay to Cape Meares State Park. Here you’ll find Cape Meares Lighthouse, one of the shortest lighthouses on the coast, perched on a towering headland 200 feet above the sea. Continuing on, you pass through the charming coastal towns of Oceanside and Netarts before reaching Cape Lookout, with its beachside camping and miles of sandy shores. The road begins a windy climb over Cape Lookout, a rocky headland that juts 1¾ miles into the ocean. For the final stretch of the scenic route, the road turns inland and passes through fertile farmland rich with pastoral splendor.
Within the Three Capes Scenic Drive are three state parks that offer hiking, fishing, crabbing and clamming, bird watching and picnicking. Other nearby attractions include Munson Creek Falls, south of Tillamook on Highway 101, the Pelican Pub & Brewery in Pacific City for an excellent meal and an award-winning brew while watching the ocean, and the Tillamook Cheese Factory for a sample of its delicious cheeses and homemade ice cream.
The Oregon coast receives an abundance of rainfall between October and April. July through September brings the best chance for clear days. Winter storms stir up the sea, resulting in spectacular wave action, as do periods of extreme tides around a full moon. Temperatures along the coast are moderate year-round. Although snow is possible at the lower elevations, it’s infrequent and doesn’t last long, but it’s a rare photo opportunity for the lucky few who get to experience snow at the coast.
The three capes are the main attractions along the loop, but the photo opportunities aren’t limited to these locations. Subjects such as the Cape Meares Lighthouse and panoramic views of the coastline are postcard-picture perfect. The many pullouts along the drive offer views of the coastline from north to south as far as the eye can see, presenting the viewer with different geologic views at each stop. The colorful wings of hang gliders as they soar in the thermals at Cape Kiwanda and Cape Lookout contrast against the blues and greens of a beautiful Oregon day. Offshore wildlife refuges for nesting seabirds, such as common murres and tufted puffins, offer excellent possibilities to photograph their large colonies. Best of all, when the conditions are right, a short but strenuous hike up the dunes at Cape Kiwanda to the tip of the cape rewards a hardy photographer with breathtaking wave action.
Each season has a different personality, encouraging one to return again and again to experience the variety. Winter, with the sun low in the sky, storms, extreme tides and smaller crowds, is an opportune time to capture the wild and rugged side of the Oregon coast while the summer months are dreamlike, with foggy mornings burning off to unveil skies and seas of the deepest blues. Spring is a riot of colors, with the native rhododendron, foxglove and other colorful plants bursting into bloom. Fall is the peaceful season, when the trees dress in their colorful finest for a short time before shedding their leaves as if to bare their souls before us as the winter returns.
Contact: Oregon Parks and Recreation, (800) 551-6949, www.oregonstateparks.org.
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